On a snowy, rainy, cold day north of Denver, Colorado, I got the first chance to climb behind the wheel of the latest salvo in the pickup wars – a 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke Diesel. While my excitement was tempered before the drive, it was FIRED UP by the end. Here’s why.
Before I get into why my excitement was raised, let’s first discuss Ford‘s latest engine for its good selling F-150. The new half-ton Power Stroke is a 3.0L V6 diesel engine producing 250 HP and 440 lb-ft. of torque.
Also, it is capable of towing up to 11,400 lbs in certain configurations with 2,020 pounds of cargo capacity for XL and XLT fleet applications, and 1,940 pounds for retail applications. Essentially, it can tow light trailers, slide-in campers and haul a load of landscaping materials for the weekend homeowner project.
One of the interesting things with the Power Stroke diesel engine is how there has been tempered excitement about it from myself and most of my colleagues. The fact is it was announced prior to the 2018 North American Auto Show in Detroit where the new Ram, Silverado and a new Ford Ranger were all unveiled. Right or wrong, the Power Stroke simply got lost in the news cycle.
For myself, I was and still am very interested in the new Ford Ranger and upcoming Ford Bronco. The Power Stroke Diesel was a side note in my view. Then, Ford announced the 30 MPG number. Things got a little more interesting.
Upon arriving at the event, the weather outlook wasn’t fantastic. However, it turned out to be perfect for our day with mid 40s and snow. The wet weather allowed me a lot of fun in the mud while really challenged the wheel grip and braking efficiency with the pickup. While, it is did temper the temperature gauge, one would assume there will be no problems there.
Our first drive was a basic loop drive up into the mountains through the mountain canyon. This drive really showed there was some lag from a dead stop while the turbos got the engine moving. The lag wasn’t an issue, just an interesting thing to note as my drive partner and often guest co-host on the podcast Jill Ciminillo noted.
She found it interesting that often diesel cars are setup for quicker off the line speed, whereas diesel pickups seem to be slower off the line.
Fortunately, Ford has just the remedy for this “issue.” After a bit of searching, we found the driver mode button attached to the shifter along the shaft facing the driver. It isn’t such an easy button to find. However, once found, the pickup offers a variety of driving modes including “Sport.” Yeah, a Sport mode in a diesel pickup!
Putting the pickup in the Sport mode saw us screaming off the line with our backs being thrown back into the seats. It isn’t a mode for daily driving, but holy cow does it really transform the pickup.
While the pickup drove much quicker, it didn’t sound any louder. In fact, diesel consumers who want to hear their engine running are going to be very disappointed. I’ve heard gasoline engines run louder than this Power Stroke diesel. It definitely passes the fast food drive thru ordering test.
Next, we hit the mud and the Power Stroke was simply a blast. The low-end torque and quiet noise made sliding through the sloppy mud so much fun. We also had the rear-locking differential engaged which helped us get through the ruts without needing to be rescued.
While sure, a diesel engine isn’t often renowned for its off-road prowess, this Power Stroke diesel could really do the job.
Returning back to the staging area, we switched pickups to experience the towing power – the real benefit of a diesel engine. Our pickup had 5,400 lbs of load with a horse trailer attached and with a 3.73 rear axle ratio. It was also a crew cab which meant the max towing was likely around 8-9k, so we were well within specifications.
The drive route saw us skirt the front range of mountains in Colorado and had plenty of climbs and descents – all about 4 percent grades.
Off the line, the diesel pulls strong and got the load moving smoothly without issue. As we gained speed, the transmission helped hold the gear allowing us to quickly get up to speed thanks to having the tow/haul mode engaged.
Next, the pickup felt solid on the corners and the trailer had little sway.
As we made our way to the climbs, I was really curious to see how the pickup would have the graded climbs especially with about, what I guess was, 75 percent of max towing. In all cases, it passed with flying colors. We were able to hold the 55 mph speed up the hill and it felt like there was more power available if we needed it.
On the descents, the brakes were firm and comfortably slowed done the pickup with the trailer brake controller helping us tow confidently.
While Ford does have a F-150 Power Stroke diesel available to max tow at 11,400 lbs, the towing we did was pretty average for most consumers and really, in my view, plenty for a half-ton pickup.
My overall assessment was the pickup towed like a natural aspirated larger displacement V8 engine while offering the diesel fuel economy benefits. This means, I’m praising it since we were able to return about 20 MPG on our short towing loop – something a gasoline V8 wouldn’t be able to do in my view on the same route with the same towing weight.
In my view, the Ford EcoBoost collection of engines has been a winning strategy for them in terms of marketing and returning fuel economy for a gasoline engine. However, if you are really after fuel economy and want to also be able to tow, the Power Stroke 3.0L V6 is really the better choice.
One of the other driving experiences Jill and I engaged was a fuel economy challenge with an extended cab, 2wd F-150 spec’d out for the best fuel economy possible.
Taking a pre-designed route, journalists attempted to best each other by getting the best fuel economy they could. We engaged every hyper-miler technique we could and while Jill bested me, the winner was able to return over 40 MPG on that loop.
Both Jill and I were able to return low 30s with some effort like putting the pickup into neutral, upshifting off the line, slow off the line starts and feathering the brakes at stops.
Ultimately, most drivers won’t drive this way, but it is a fun challenge to show what the pickup is capable of doing.
The Power Stroke V6 rings up as $3,000 more than the 5.0L V8 and $2,400 more than the 3.5L EcoBoost V6. Moving to the smaller 2.7L EcoBoost V6, the Power Stroke diesel is $4,000 more.
While there will be those who see the price increase as a negative, when you look at fuel economy and how well it tows, it is well worth it. Critics will argue the long-term break-even number is largely unattainable for most consumers, not emptying your wallet at the gas station has its own reward.
The 2018 Ford F-150 Power Stroke Diesel is expected to hit dealer lots in May, 2018.
Remember how I started this story with the I was pretty excited at the end? Yeah, exactly that. The F-150 Power Stroke diesel pulls strong and I’d even wager slightly better than the only other half-ton diesel on the market – the Ram EcoDiesel. Also, it bests the Ram on fuel economy with the 30 MPG better than the 29 MPG Ram is rated at.
With Chevrolet’s baby Duramax not ready to hit the market yet and the Ram EcoDiesel not being as strong, in my opinion, it dawned on me. I drove the BEST half-ton diesel on the market. Excitement level raised!
This should excite consumers as well considering how quiet the pickup idles, the fuel economy and the towing power. While pricing could put some consumers, it really is a great choice for pickup owners who use their pickups to tow or haul the family around. There really is no compromise here besides keeping DEF fluid on hand and even then, that is a small matter. If you have been waiting for a Ford F-150 diesel with great fuel economy and towing power, wait no more. It is here and it is pretty damn good.